1988 Season Recap Part 2 of 18: Brazilian Grand Prix

Senna carves through the field in Brazil
The F1 circus arrived in Rio de Janerio to much fanfare. The teams had already been at the Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet circuit for testing during the winter, and as a result their cars were well adjusted to the Brazilian track. Testing had been dominated by Scuderia Ferrari, leading many to believe that the team had kept the advantage it had gained at the end of the previous season. Ferrari's testing times were faster than times set during the 1987 Grand Prix, despite regulations meant to limit the power of the turbocharged engines, causing speculation on the legality of Ferrari's 1988 challenger. Speculation also existed around the Honda powered cars, for they were the only teams to build an entirely new car, complete with a brand new Honda engine. The general consensus leading up to the Grand Prix was that Ferrari was the team to beat, with Mclaren and Lotus close behind. 

In qualifying Senna took a sensational pole in his first race for Mclaren. Senna was over half a second clear of Mansell in second, who split the two Mclaren drivers. Mansell's performance in his naturally aspirated Williams was the highlight of qualifying, as few believed the Williams had the pace to fight up front with the turbocharged cars. The Scuderia's testing pace was nowhere to be seen, which seemingly confirmed the suspicion that Ferrari was running an illegal engine setup during testing. Piquet qualified fifth in his Lotus, nearly two second's off Senna's pole time, and over a second ahead of his teammate who rounded out the top ten.  Alboreto placed sixth, more than a second off Berger who qualified fourth. During qualifying a controversy emerged when Nelson Piquet made insulting remarks about Senna to local media, at one point calling him a Homosexual. Piquet later claimed he did not know he was speaking to the press, but only after a lawsuit was threatened.

With qualifying finished, focus shifted to the race on Sunday. While no rain was predicted, a thick cloud cover hung over the circuit which had been baking in the hot South American sun. On the parade lap, Senna's gear selector failed, forcing him to complete the lap stuck in first gear. Further down the field, the Judd engine of Ivan Capelli's March began to smoke, and would later fail. An aborted start was called, allowing Senna to get in the spare car and start from the pits. Because of this, Mansell started the race from what was effectively pole position. Prost, with clear track now ahead of him, made a superb start, passing Mansell to take the lead. Prost leading by over 2 seconds at the end of the first lap, and continued to pull away from Mansell's Williams. Mansell struggled to keep the more powerful Ferrari of Berger's behind, and soon lost second to him. Mansell would later retire from the race on lap 18, when his Judd V8 overheated, handing second to Nelson Piquet.

Prost seizes an early lead in his Mclaren

Meanwhile Senna was making an astonishing recovery from the back, having gone from last to twenty-first in a single lap. By lap ten he had clawed his way into eighth place, and by lap twenty he had passed every car in the field but his teammate to take second place. On lap twenty-six Prost made his pitstop, and maintained his lead. Mclaren pitted Ayrton soon afterwards, but he stalled his car in the pits which dropped him down to sixth. Not long after making his pitstop, Senna was disqualified from the race for changing cars after the green flag had been shown. Ayrton withdrew his car from the race on lap 31, handing second and third back to Berger and Piquet respectively. The remainder of the race was rather uneventful, with no passes up in front. Berger did begin to catch Prost in the closing stages of the race, but nothing came of it. Prost took home a dominant victory over the Ferrari of Berger and the Lotus of Nelson Piquet. Derek Warwick finished a phenomenal fourth for Arrows, ahead of Alboreto in the second Ferrari. Piquet's fellow Lotus driver Satoru Nakajima rounded out the points scoring positions in sixth.

The race was marred by retirements, only nine of the twenty-six cars to start the race finished. This would be par for the course for the season, as the cars at this time were notoriously unreliable. Easily the most shocking portion of the race was Ayrton Senna's charge through the field. His drive from last to second place prior to his disqualification foreshadowed what was to come from the Mclaren Honda team. Both Mclarens were unmatched throughout the race, firmly establishing both Senna and Prost as title contenders.

Prost's win and Senna's DSQ gave him an advantage of nine points over his teammate in the driver's championship. Mclaren took the lead of the constructor's championship with the nine points from Prost's win. Ferrari benefited from having a double points finish, they now trailed Mclaren by just a single point. This was all to change however, as the MP4/4 had yet to show its true potential.